Everybody knows that when a cat arches its back and sticks its tail straight up in the air, it’s feeling angry or threatened. You’re probably also very familiar with the fact that a dog who is panting, wagging his tail, and has his front paws out and butt in the air is ready to play. It should make sense then to learn that horses communicate with us the same way—through body language!
When riding and caring for your horse, it’s important to listen to what he’s trying to tell you to foster a positive relationship and ensure a safe atmosphere. There are a ton of different ways a horse will use its body and movement to communicate, but we’ve highlighted a few of the major signs to be aware of for a basic understanding of how to interpret their body language.
Show your horse you care and that you’re willing to listen by taking the time to learn and respond to his language. Then further emphasize how much you love him by giving him the security and luxury of a gorgeous, quality home from Deer Creek Structures!
Horses speak with their ears.
One of the primary tools that horses use for communication is their ears! Pay attention to these and you’ll hear your horse’s message loud and clear.
If your horse’s ears are forward, he’s alert and attentive. Ears that are turned out to the side, on the other hand, indicate a horse who is relaxed and off-guard—take care not to sneak up on him and give him a fright.
A horse with his ears pinned back is feeling angry and defensive, and he may be getting ready to bite or kick. Identify the source of his aggression to prevent this, or just leave him alone to be on the safe side. Rapidly pivoting ears signal anxiety and fear, so realize that your horse may be overwhelmed with stimuli and find him a safe space to ease his stress.
Pay attention to your horse’s head carriage.
The way a horse positions or moves his head can say a lot about how he’s feeling. If his head is lowered, he’s likely feeling content and serene—if it’s hanging then he’s probably resting or sleeping and shouldn’t be startled.
A horse with his head held high is focused on something, trying to decide how he wants to react to whatever has caught his attention. Carefully regain your horse’s focus to prevent him from spooking. Also be aware that if he raises his head while riding, your horse may be in pain and you should double check your tack.
If there is one sign for you to be particularly aware of, it’s a horse with its head slightly lowered and moving it from side to side—or snaking. This is an act of aggression often used by fighting stallions and essentially equivalent to a red alert. Either diffuse the situation or remove yourself from it.
A horse will also communicate with his tail.
The natural position of a horse’s tail may vary, with some being higher than others at rest, but you can still count on some important universal movements. A horse with a tail raised above back level—or normal resting level—for example, is excited and energized. This horse is not paying attention and is more prone to spooking or bucking.
A clamped tail, like most animals, indicates that the animal is nervous, afraid, or stressed. He may tuck it in between his legs. Take this as a prompt to reassure and comfort your horse to make him feel safe and calm.
Rapid swishing of the tail is a clear warning of anger or irritation—this horse is about to kick or buck and should be heeded immediately. Be sure to note, however, that this aggressive movement of the tail is markedly different from the slow, rhythmic swishing you may see if your horse is swatting flies or changing a lead.
There’s much to learn about a horse’s body language, but knowing these fundamental cues is essential for connecting with your horse and instilling him with confidence. One thing you can be sure of whether you’re a horse whisperer or not, is that your horse needs a safe place to retreat to at the end of a long day and when the weather gets rough!
Deer Creek Structures is dedicated to providing the best home to promote a healthy life for your beloved horse. Give us a call or visit our website today to learn more about our options for pre or custom-built horse barns!